Chinese and Indian troops had a standoff this week inside a disputed border area in the Himalayas, Niharika Mandhanareportsfor The Wall Street Journal. The confrontation, which took place in Kahsmir’sLadakh region, comes at the same time as a summit between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The current standoff was sparked when Indian troops confronted Chinese soldiers who were constructing a road in disputed territory that India claims as its own. There was no fire exchanged, but the incident was yet another example of China pushing its territorial confrontations with its neighbours as far as possible without reaching a violent breaking-point.
China and India share the world’s longest disputed border, along which China has mounted occasional incursions in an effort to achieve a strategic advantage in the area.
These border transgressions by China are part of a slow-rolling strategy that Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center of Policy Research in New Delhi, describes as “salami slicing” in The Japan Times.
China slowly infiltrates and takes control of a disputed border by a series of small maneuvers, a policy of limited steady steps to take and hold territory. This limits “the options of the targeted countries by confounding their deterrence plans and making it difficult for them to devise proportionate or effective counteractions,” Brahma writes.
This slow, steady eating away at borders grants China a strategic advantage. No single action is cause enough for war. And by maintaining the strategic initiative, China can slowly push its borders further and further into disputed territory while maintaining a measure of deniability.
According to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, the strategy works. Five years ago, the site where Chinese troops were building the disputed road was squarely considered to be in Indian territory.
Despite efforts at boosting economic ties between China and India — like this week’s high-level summit — the two nations remain deeply suspicious of each other. The countries fought a border war in 1962, and India and China are the world’s leading weapons importers. And India has hosted Tibet’s government in exile since 1959.
Aside from the slow infiltration of Chinese troops in disputed Himalayan territory, India has also been unnerved by China’s growing development of military bases throughout the Indian Ocean.
China has invested in port installations that can support the country’s commercial and military activities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. Indian General Deepak Kapoor, a former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, has referred to this project as China’s “string of pearls” surrounding India.
China also pursues its “salami slicing” strategy at sea, where it has slowly expanded its maritime claims within the South and East China seas. This push has led to a rapid increase of hostilities between China and its neighbours, including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with at least one Chinese military professor believing that maritime-related tensions could lead to World War III.
That might be a tad alarmist. But this week’s confrontation between the two nations’ armies occurred even as Indian and Chinese leaders were discussing the boosting of economic ties between the two nations. Even if their commercial relationship deepens, the world’s two most populous countries still have huge points of contention with each other.
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